Mike Holmgren tried to tell us there’d be weeks like this.
Good advice, especially in light of the team’s disappointing loss to Tampa Bay in the season opener last Sunday.
That the Browns are not yet a playoff-caliber team was painfully evident—not so much in the way the game started, but in the way it came crashing down around them.
Yes, Jake Delhomme fueled the criticism of his many detractors, who point to his playoff collapse two years ago and subsequent decline in 2009 when predicting more of the same in a Browns uniform.
Delhomme’s ill-advised attempt to flip the ball to tight end Ben Watson and avoid a sack at the end of the first half Sunday—which was intercepted and returned to the Cleveland three-yard-line by Ronde Barber—led to a Buccaneer touchdown and a total shift in momentum.
It shouldn’t have, of course. Yes, it was a terrible mistake, and Delhomme openly admitted he has to be smarter than to make that throw.
Still, at what point did the Browns decide they weren’t a better team than Tampa Bay? They had outplayed the Buccaneers and still held the lead at the half. Why on earth did they quit playing like it?
At what point did Brian Daboll and his staff decide to throw away a multifaceted attack that was supposed to include more of Seneca Wallace and Josh Cribbs in favor of an ineffectual, plodding approach that netted zero points—zero!—over the last 33 minutes of the game?
And what, pray tell, happened to the stellar special teams? Tampa Bay was not intimidated by them, in the least.
Such questions are endless, but the fact is the Browns lost a game they not only should have won, but had to win.
That said, it’s not a time to panic. It’s a time to face reality.
The Browns still have a long way to go, and that was the point of Holmgren’s admonishment back in August.
Do you truly win a championship, or even just a division title, with an experienced but aging quarterback at the helm? It could happen, but usually doesn’t. Delhomme is here to help the Browns transition to the next phase.
Do you become a serious contender with the likes of Peyton Hillis, Jerome Harrison, and James Davis at running back? Possibly, but there’s nothing in their history to indicate it will happen that way.
Do you consistently shut down opposing offenses when you are so dependent on rookies in your defensive backfield? Theoretically you could, but in most cases the youngsters will make just enough mistakes to cost you in the long run.
The Browns are loaded with potential, but that doesn’t win in the NFL. It may point to wins down the road, but until it materializes a lot of losses will likely pile up.
That said, this week’s home opener against Kansas City is a slippery slope, indeed.
I called it a virtual must-win game in a column here a week ago. If the season is to be salvaged, that remains the case.
If they can’t beat Tampa Bay or Kansas City, which of those next seven opponents can they beat? Nobody wants to think about 0-9, but it’s not out of the question.
To complicate things, the Chiefs looked surprisingly good in their win over San Diego Monday night. They’ll be the favorite going into Week 2.
That doesn’t mean they’re suddenly the Saints, however. They have weaknesses, and it will be up to the Browns to exploit them while minimizing their own mistakes.
The season opener was a crucial test, one that the Browns failed. The home opener represents a second chance, of sorts.
That’s why it’s critical for the Browns to rebound, get their act together, and win on Sunday.
If they do, there’s hope. If they don’t, there may be trouble afoot—for Eric Mangini, Brian Daboll, and a lot of people whose future in Cleveland may have depended on early success in 2010.